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FHWA Home / Safety / Transportation Safety Planning (TSP) / Transportation Safety Planning (TSP)

Transportation Safety Planning (TSP)

Graphical header that has the title: Applying Safety Data and Analysis to Performance-Based Transportation Planning.

3.0 Performance-Based Planning Processes

A key outcome of this guidebook is to describe how data (crash, roadway characteristics, vehicle miles traveled (VMT), etc.) and the outputs of analysis can be used by planners during the transportation planning processes to develop safety goals, objectives, performance measures, and targets; identify and prioritize projects; and evaluate progress towards safety priorities. States often possess robust safety data, and planners have the skills and tools to analyze an array of crash information to inform safety-specific plans or safety components of transportation plans. However, all too often, data and analysis are not used to inform safety considerations in all transportation decisionmaking and project prioritization.

The basics of the transportation planning process and opportunities to incorporate the outputs of safety analysis into that process are presented in this section. The goal is to help planners develop a performance-based framework for lowering fatalities and serious injuries. This section also provides an overview of SHSPs, describing how they may serve as a resource.

3.1 The Transportation Planning Process

Why is “Data Driven” so Important to the Planning Process?

Transportation programs and projects need to demonstrate how they address the most pressing needs. Data allows planners to develop goals, objectives, performance measures, and targets, and to quantify the impacts of policies, programs, and projects.

Transportation plans come in many different varieties. Long-range transportation plans (LRTP) define an overarching vision for the future transportation system; establish goals and objectives that clarify and operationalize that vision; and guide the selection of transportation policies, programs, and projects consistent with the goals. Modal plans (i.e., bicycle/‌pedestrian, freight) function in the same way as long-range plans, but typically are focused on one transportation topic and identify short-, mid-, and long-term policies, programs, and projects. Corridor plans address a range of transportation topics or modal priorities along a certain portion of the transportation network and also identify short-, mid-, and long-term policies, programs, and projects. Regardless of the type of plan, the ultimate goal is the same—use a performance-based transportation planning process to identify programmatic, policy, and project priorities to address current and future needs. Figure 3.1 outlines a goal-driven process that can be used to construct any transportation planning document.

Figure 3.1 Flowchart. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Performance-Based Planning and Programming Framework

Figure 3.1 is a flowchart outlining the framework for performance-based planning and programming.

Source: FHWA Performance-Based Planning and Programming Guidebook, September 2013.

Agencies may use different terminology or approach performance-based planning in slightly different ways than what is illustrated in figure 3.1, but the core planning tasks often include:

  • Data collection and analysis to identify needs, priorities, policies, programs, and projects;
  • Goals and objectives to frame those needs and priorities and establish evaluation criteria;
  • Performance measures and targets to evaluate alternatives and track progress towards the goals and objectives;
  • Project prioritization and programming to identify the mix of projects that meet the goals and objectives of the plan and contribute progress towards the performance target; and
  • Evaluation to understand the extent to which safety performance for the transportation system, modes, or behaviors is changing and where future investments can be made.

3.1.1 Data Collection and Analysis

To initiate a planning process, planners obtain data to analyze current and future transportation issues and needs. Traditionally, issues and needs relate to capacity constraints, connectivity gaps, or system preservation. This analysis leads to the identification of goals and objectives, various transportation improvement strategies, and ultimately project priorities and investments to address those needs.

3.1.2 Goals and Objectives

Planners coordinate with stakeholders and the public, and consult data to develop goals and objectives. Goals define a desired result, or outcome, while objectives support the goal by providing additional details, or strategies, on how the goal will be achieved. Goals and objectives provide the framework necessary for planners to identify transportation programs and projects.

3.1.3 Performance Measures and Targets

Performance measures are tied to goals and objectives and are used to assess the effectiveness of programs and projects that address transportation issues and deficiencies (i.e., Will this project/program improve air quality? Will it reduce the number of fatalities? Will it increase person throughput?). Performance targets are a numeric goal and describe the extent to which an agency will address its goals, taking into account resources and funding (i.e., conformity attainment by 2015, 5 percent reduction in fatalities by 2020, 10 percent increase in person throughput by 2025).

3.1.4 Project Prioritization and Programming

Project prioritization is an evaluation process to identify the transportation programs and projects that best support the overall goals and/or objectives of the plan and help an agency make progress towards its performance targets with available resources. Agencies often develop a scoring/ranking methodology and identify evaluation criteria in which to assess the value and costs of transportation projects.

3.1.5 Evaluation

Transportation systems or specific projects can be evaluated to understand the extent to which crashes, fatalities, and/or serious injuries are increasing or decreasing. Many agencies use performance measures and targets to track and then evaluate progress towards programmatic safety goals and objectives. Some may also assess and evaluate the reduction potential for certain projects. Both programmatic and project evaluation provide information on how and where to invest limited resources.

Each of these individual planning tasks builds upon one another to form a framework, or process, for identifying and programming transportation priorities. The next section goes on to discuss how safety can be included during these tasks to lower fatalities and serious injuries.

3.2 The Strategic Highway Safety Planning Process

State DOTs are required to develop Strategic Highway Safety Plans (SHSP) in a cooperative process with Local, State, Federal, Tribal, and other safety stakeholders. This includes regional and metropolitan transportation planning organizations and county transportation officials. It is a data-driven plan that presents a framework for reducing fatalities and serious injuries on all public roads in the State. Each State’s SHSP identifies safety problems, as well as key emphasis areas that direct safety resources for all public roads. For these plans, crash data and analysis must be used to inform selection of safety emphasis areas and strategies. Federal, State, and other funds can be used for efforts that support the priorities and strategies in the SHSP. For example, HSIP funds are applied to projects and initiatives that are consistent with the emphasis areas and strategies found in their State’s SHSP. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) funds (e.g., Section 402 (23 CFR Part 1200) and 405 (23 CFR Parts 1200.21, 1200.22, 1200.23, 1200.23(5), 1200.24, 1200.25, 1200.26, and 1200.20(e)(3)) also are often used to fund SHSP-related projects, particularly those related to behavioral countermeasures.

The SHSP is intended to be a coordinated planning effort. Legislation encourages coordination of the SHSP with various other planning documents (i.e., Highway Safety Plan (HSP), Commercial Vehicle Safety Plan (CVSP), local plans, etc.) and the LRTP must integrate directly, or by reference, the goals, objectives, performance measures, and targets described in other State transportation plans, such as the SHSP. The SHSP is an extremely useful tool, complimenting and enhancing safety efforts conducted during the transportation planning process. The relationship between the two documents is further described in Section 3.2.1.

3.2.1 The SHSP Data-Driven Planning Process

Funding Safety Plans

In many instances, the DOT will provide funding to MPOs or local jurisdictions to complete safety plans. However, another source of funding can be the State Highway Safety Office. The Cheyenne MPO in Wyoming coordinated with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Wyoming Highway Safety Office to complete an update to their Safety Management Plan.

The SHSP development and update process can be a model for planners interested in a data-driven approach to identifying safety programs and projects. The SHSP Champion’s Guidebook, Second Edition provides the basic structure for SHSP development, including data collection and analysis; SHSP content (performance measures, goals and objectives, emphasis areas); and SHSP preparation (plan format). State and regional agencies interested in identifying safety priorities; developing safety goals, objectives, and performance measures; and prioritizing safety funding can use this framework when developing regional safety plans, mode-specific safety plans, corridor plans, or integrating safety into other transportation planning documents. This SHSP-style planning approach can be seen in practice in Montana. Six communities developed community transportation safety plans. Figure 3.2 demonstrates the process used to identify emphasis areas, strategies, and performance measures through data and analysis.

Figure 3.2 Flowchart. Planning Process for Montana Safety Plans

Figure 3.2 is a flowchart outlining the planning approach used by local communities in Montana to develop data-driven safety plans.

Source: Bozeman Community Transportation Safety Plan (CTSP), July 2013.

Although the SHSP is an important tool during the transportation planning process, planners also need to think beyond the contents of the SHSP and consider medium- to longer-term safety considerations during transportation plan development. Section 3.2.2 describes the differences between the two planning processes.

3.2.2 SHSPs and Transportation Plans

A common question asked by transportation planners is, “Why does safety need to be considered in transportation plans when the topic already is strategically addressed in the SHSP?” This should be done because:

  • Transportation plans typically look at longer planning horizons than the SHSP and must consider how future infrastructure can be planned safer. To do so, safety is addressed in the LRTP to meet identified safety goals, objectives, and performance measures.
  • Transportation planners must consider all modes, corridors, and the network as a whole during the planning process, whereas the SHSP addresses the most pressing and current data-driven safety issues at the statewide level. Planners need to think about the longer-term implications of the emphasis areas outlined in the SHSP, but also need to think beyond those and address topics such as freight, community, and transit safety, as well as other topics that link to safety, such as complete streets, sustainability, health, environment, and more.
  • Transportation planning studies are necessary to focus on and pinpoint the range of safety issues, project locations, and countermeasures, beyond what would be expected in the SHSP. Specific projects, funding sources, or locations where safety needs to be addressed would be included in state and metropolitan transportation improvement programs (S/TIPs).

SHSPs assume a data-driven approach to identify goals (or emphasis areas), objectives, strategies, performance measures, and programs/projects. This process does compliment the transportation planning process to help with the identification of data-driven transportation safety priorities in LRTPs, modal plans, or other transportation documents.

3.3 Integrating Safety during the Transportation Planning Process

Why is it Important to Consider Safety in the Transportation Planning Process?

Transportation related fatalities occur every day. Transportation planners have an
inherent responsibility to identify transportation projects and programs to meet safety goals and work towards reducing fatalities and serious injuries to zero.

Planners utilize the transportation planning process as a framework for planning, prioritizing, programming investments, and advancing policies. Incorporating safety into planning does not require an entirely new process—it can be easily integrated into the common tasks that planners already undertake, including data collection and analysis, goal and objective setting, performance measures and targets, project prioritization and programming, and evaluation. Table 3.1 depicts the common transportation planning tasks, the opportunities to consider safety during those tasks, and MPO and State DOT examples of safety integration.

Table 3.1 Safety Integration in the Transportation Planning Process
Transportation Planning Process—Key Planning Task Safety Integration into Key Planning Task Examples
Data Collection and Analysis
  • Obtain safety data, which can include crash data, roadway characteristic data, traffic volume data, and safety information from public/stakeholder input.
  • Conduct safety analysis, which can range from basic analysis like identifying crash frequencies to more sophisticated approaches, such as network screening.
  • In Ohio, crash and roadway data are obtained through the Ohio DOT. VMT estimates also are available for State and regional agencies. Ohio DOT has developed user-friendly tools, such as the Geographic Information System (GIS) Crash Analysis Tool (GCAT), which automate the analysis.
  • In New Mexico, State and regional agencies can access safety data through the University of New Mexico (UNM) Division of Government Research (DGR) Web site to access published reports, or they can submit a request to New Mexico DOT via email to the Crash Records reporting office (crash.records@state.nm.us) to request specific records and/or generated reports.
  • The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Council (MORPC) analyzes pedestrian and bicycle high-crash locations to identify areas in need of physical safety improvements, as well as safety education programs.
Goal and Objective Setting
  • Use the results of public/‌stakeholder input, outputs of data analysis, and information in other plans such as the SHSP to identify safety goals and objectives or incorporate safety into transportation goals.
  • In Missouri, the Mid-America Regional Council utilized the results of stakeholder input and data analysis to identify the top safety issues in the region (infrastructure, behavioral, and special users) and strategies to address them. This data-driven approach to goal and strategy identification can be found in their Destination Safe plan.
  • In California, a number of the regional transportation planning organizations (RTPO), including the Del Norte Local Transportation Commission, adopted and customized relevant goals and strategies from the California SHSP for use in their LRTPs.
Performance Measures and Targets
  • Establish performance measures and targets for fatalities and serious injuries and fatality and serious injury rates.
  • Establish performance measures and targets for other transportation safety goals, as appropriate.
  • In Nevada, the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) of Washoe County identified safety performance measures and targets in their most recent LRTP.
  • In Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania DOT provides Highway Safety Guidance Reports to every district, MPO, and regional planning organization (RPO) detailing region-specific performance measures and targets for safety goals. The goals, measures, and targets are all derived from a data-driven approach.
Project Prioritization and Programming
  • Use results of data analysis to identify safety projects eligible for Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) funds.
  • Leverage goals and objectives and results of data analysis to develop safety evaluation criteria for all transportation projects, regardless of funding source.
  • In Arizona, the Central Arizona Governments (CAG) conducted an intersection network screening analysis and plans to submit an HSIP application to Arizona DOT to fund safety improvements at priority intersection locations.
  • In New Jersey, the South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization (SJTPO) coordinates a Local Safety Program to identify local safety projects eligible for HSIP funding.
  • In Virginia, the DOT is evaluating transportation projects against several criteria. In addition to demonstrating how a project mitigates congestion, improves accessibility, etc., it also must show how it expects to achieve reductions in fatal and serious injuries.
  • Review safety performance measures to identify the extent to which safety goals and objectives are being met.
  • Review safety programs and projects to identify the extent to which they are reducing fatalities and serious injuries.
  • The Champaign Urbana Urban Area Transportation Study has developed a report card to evaluate the safety performance measures identified in its LRTP.
  • Washington DOT regularly evaluates its cable median barrier program to assess its effectiveness of reducing fatalities and serious injuries.

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Page last modified on October 21, 2020
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